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Storymaking in Erbil

Last month, we published an introduction to Storymaker, a mobile app currently in development. Intended to enable existing and aspiring journalists around the world to develop their digital storytelling skills, the project is supported by Global Voices, Free Press UnlimitedThe International Center for Journalism, Small World News and the Guardian Project. Updates will be published as the project continues. 

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In a land as old as history itself, there are many stories to discover. The Storymaker team arrived in Erbil in Kurdistan in the North of Iraq, to work with 20 inspiring journalists and citizen journalists from around Iraq. Each armed with a new mobile device and the latest version of the app, the participants spent 5 days discussing journalistic standards and making stories around and about Erbil.

Located northern Iraq, Erbil is one of the world's oldest continuosuly inhabited cities. Historically an important trading center, Erbil connected Baghdad and Mosul. The largest city in the Kurdish autonomous region and governed by the Kurdish regional government, Iraqis traveling north to avoid both summer heat and sectarian violence often come to Erbil for its relative calm and safety. 

The region is not an easy one to work in, from slow Internet to rising regional tensions. Hoping to move beyond these concerns, the goal of the training was to create a hub of users that could produce stories and provide feedback on the newly released beta version of Storymaker. The participants were chosen by the Independant Media Centre of Kurdistan (IMCK), and included Arabic and Kurdish students and professional journalists. Rising Voices was on hand to provide story ideas and mentoring. 

 

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The trainings touched on a series of topics, pressing participants to think beyond the typical news article and to consider how the digital world has impacted news making. Another class discussed how the framing of a photograph affects the story, while a third presented a detailed step-by-step guide on how to use the Storymaker app, connecting a phone to a projector and walking participants through the different features.

The Storymaker app is designed to help citizen journalists tell stories more effectively for a digital audience, and includes lessons, templates, and basic editing capabilities. Stories are uploaded to Youtube and displayed on Storymaker.cc. To ensure privacy, it is possible to use a secure Tor network connection to protect the user’s identity.

Ali, a participant from Najaf, said that he found the app to be very useful. “For me, it will be useful if something suddenly happens, and we can’t have a photographer present,” said Ali. “I can see our viewers using it and sending clips in to play on TV.”

As this was the first deployment of the app, several difficulties had to be addressed, including language and a variety of phone models. For example, the app runs best on Android, but as there are many phone models, problems can occur for the user.

Simultaneously, Storymaker colleagues in Egypt from Sawt Hurr, organized a training in Minya, about 5 hours south of Cairo. As the project kicks off, there will be more trainings taking place around the world. Next stops: Morocco and Tunisia.

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